The speech was broken by a sob. All turned to Esther, who hid her face upon her father’s shoulder.
“I did not think of you, Esther,” said Simonides, gently, for he was himself deeply moved.
“It is well enough, Simonides,” said Ben-Hur. “A man bears a hard doom better, knowing there is pity for him. Let me go on.”
They gave him ear again.
“I was about to say,” he continued, “I have no choice, but take the part you assign me; and as remaining here is to met an ignoble death, I will to the work at once.”
“Shall we have writings?” asked Simonides, moved by his habit of business.
“I rest upon your word,” said Ben-Hur.
“And I,” Ilderim answered.
Thus simply was effected the treaty which was to alter Ben-Hur’s life. And almost immediately the latter added- “It is done, then.”
“May the God of Abraham help us!” Simonides exclaimed.
“One word now, my friends,” Ben-Hur said, more cheerfully. “By your leave, I will be my own until after the games. It is not probable Messala will set peril on foot for me until he has given the procurator time to answer him; and that cannot be in less than seven days from the despatch of his letter. The meeting him in the Circus is a pleasure I would buy at whatever risk.”
Ilderim, well pleased, assented readily, and Simonides, intent on business, added, “It is well; for look you, my master, the delay will give me time to do you a good part. I understood you to speak of an inheritance derived from Arrius. Is it in property?”
“A villa near Misenum, and houses in Rome.”
“I suggest, then, the sale of the property, and safe deposit of the proceeds. Give me an account of it, and I will have authorities drawn, and despatch an agent on the mission forthwith. We will forestall the imperial robbers at least this once.”
“You shall have the account to-morrow.”
“Then, if there be nothing more, the work of the night is done,” said Simonides.
Ilderim combed his beard complacently, saying, “And well done.”
“The bread and wine again, Esther. Sheik Ilderim will make us happy by staying with us till to-morrow, or at his pleasure; and thou, my master- ”
“Let the horses be brought,” said Ben-Hur. “I will return to the Orchard. The enemy will not discover me if I go now, and”- he glanced at Ilderim- “the four will be glad to see me.”
As the day dawned, he and Malluch dismounted at the door of the tent.
ESTHER AND BEN-HUR.
NEXT night, about the fourth hour, Ben-Hur stood on the terrace of the great warehouse with Esther. Below them, on the landing, there was much running about, and shifting of packages and boxes, and shouting of men, whose figures, stooping, heaving, hauling, looked, in the light of the crackling torches kindled in their aid, like the labouring genii of the fantastic Eastern tales. A galley was being laden for instant departure. Simonides had not yet come from his office, in which, at the last moment, he would deliver to the captain of the vessel instructions to proceed without stop to Ostia, the seaport of Rome, and, after landing a passenger there, continue more leisurely to Valentia, on the coast of Spain.